Column: Kellan Grady will make or break Kentucky in March


Kentucky Wildcats guard Kellan Grady (31) laughs after making a 3-pointer during the UK vs. Alabama mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-81. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Oscar Tshiebwe’s 30 points and 18 rebounds provided a glaring bright spot on No. 6 Kentucky’s 75-73 loss to No. 18 Arkansas in Fayetteville on Saturday.  

The National Player of the Year candidate carried the Wildcats to the finish line inside Bud Walton Arena. UK head coach John Calipari ran the offense through the big man, feeding him the basketball in the post nearly every possession.  

He recorded his 23rd double-double of the season in the first half, taking over from the get-go.  

TyTy Washington Jr and Sahvir Wheeler both made their returns to the court, coming off the bench for their first bit of action in over a week.  

While the duo finished with a combined 24 points and eight assists, there was clearly some rust that impacted their performances in the early goings.  

After thriving in their previous two starts, Davion Mintz and Jacob Toppin were held to nearly nothing on Saturday, scoring just two points between the two while being held responsible for allowing a season-high 30-points via Arkansas’ JD Notae.  

Fayetteville was bumping as a striped-out Bud Walton Arena became louder with each Razorback bucket. UK faced an early 13-point deficit that was almost single-handedly erased by Tshiebwe.  

As the West Virginia transfer thrived under pressure, another star transfer was stifled.  

Kellan Grady entered Saturday afternoon having scored double-digit points in nine of his last 10 games.  

Midway through SEC play, Grady had turned a corner from being a streaky shooter, to becoming nearly automatic when the ball entered his hands. 

Until UK’s win over LSU in Lexington on Feb. 23, he had knocked down multiple 3-pointers in nine consecutive games. Even against the Tigers, he finished with 13 points on 5-13 shooting.  

Whether it is attributed to Arkansas’ defensive game plan, or as Calipari put it in the post-game presser, not “working” enough, Grady scored a mere three points, taking just three shots in 30 minutes. 

Foul trouble can be attributed to his lack of production in the first half, as two personals held him to just 10 minutes.  

The second half was a different story, as Grady played the entire 20 minutes, putting up just two shots. As UK and Arkansas went blow for blow down the stretch, the presence of the conference’s best shooter was missing.  

Tshiebwe did his best to will the Wildcats toward a victory, but deplorable offense out of timeouts in the final minutes of the game cost UK. Grady’s one 3-pointer came in a crucial time with under three minutes left, giving Kentucky its final lead of the afternoon.  

Ultimately, Arkansas protected its home court, sending Kentucky back home to Lexington with its fourth SEC loss of the season.  

All four of UK’s conference losses have come on the road, with the latter two witnessing below-average performances from Grady.  

In the Cats’ last two road games in Fayetteville and Knoxville, Grady scored a combined nine points. Kentucky needs its resident sharpshooter to win a National Championship this April, and 2-9 and 1-3 shooting is not going to cut it.  

The dynamic backcourt of Washington and Wheeler is going to produce at an elite level when healthy. Tshiebwe’s absurd numbers can carry the Cats far. Grady’s shooting is going to be the difference between a run to the Sweet 16 versus a run to the Final Four.  

Being the only consistently reliable deep ball shooter on the team, Grady cannot afford to go cold in March. The Cats will trade two’s all day, but if they run into an elite shooting lineup, he must be the equalizer from downtown to help UK keep pace.  

Mintz, the team’s second-best shooter, has not proven that he can provide on a nightly basis. Washington’s efficiency has diminished as he has battled injury, and Wheeler’s shooting has been anything but reliable.  

When a No. 7 seed is amidst an 8-0 run looking for an upset, Calipari will call Grady’s number. Up until a week ago, it seemed all but certain that he would be there to answer it.  

They say shooters shoot, and there is no one that Big Blue Nation would rather see letting it go than the Davidson transfer.  

If teams can match the defensive scheme that were ran by the Volunteers and Razorbacks, BBN may find frustration in their No. 1 shooter unable to fill it up from deep.  

Yes, Tshiebwe is the most important piece to Kentucky’s team, but Grady is the X-factor. If he gets red-hot at the right time, UK will be booking its tickets to New Orleans in just a few weeks time.  

If he goes cold in March, however, the strive for nine may continue into 2023. Crunch time is coming, and Kentucky needs its rainmaker.